I’ve been looking for articles on atheists and atheism from the Watchtower Society for a while now, and I was always disappointed that they didn’t have much to say. They continue to pick on evolution, of course, which many people associate with atheism. But why not atheists? Aren’t we the cool and happening boogiemen of the day? Plus, more ex-Witnesses turn into atheists than with any other group studied so far. With this and the so called rise of new atheism (not my phrase) in the media, you would think the Society would have something in at least one Watchtower or one AWAKE! every year. But you’d be wrong. I was pretty bummed about it … until Cofty at JWD was kind enough to post a link to PZ Myers web site, which addressed an upcoming article in the AWAKE! magazine, called, “IS ATHEISM ON THE MARCH?”
For other ex-Witnesses turned atheists, this might be a bitter pill to swallow. Me? All I feel is hunger … a hunger for more. Waitress, can we have another, please?
Here’s a quote from the article’s first paragraph. NOTE: If your doctor doesn’t recommend you engage in strenuous laughter, turn away now!
Called the new atheists, they are not content to keep their views to themselves. Rather, they are on a crusade,“actively, angrily, passionately trying to persuade the religious to their point of view,” wrote columnist Richard Bernstein.
I’m not sure how we should interpret these lines. Is the Society complaining about a group of people on a mission to convince others that their way is best? I try to give the Society’s authors the benefit of the doubt when I can1, but if the first line isn’t strong enough to suggest that they are complaining about outspoken atheists, the second one ought to be.2 So I think we can all chuckle at the painful irony of it all with a clean conscience. Next month, they’ll be griping about Mormons who knock on their doors.
Even agnostics are in their sights, for these new atheists allow no room for doubt. To them, there simply is no God. End of story.
More irony? Yes, the new atheists are so unlike the Society, which asserts that it is Jehovah God’s one and only true religion, that its leaders were appointed by him and should be obeyed even when they’re wrong, and that all other religions are demon inspired or simply man made. No doubts there either. Well, at least atheists are in good company.
This reminds me of an article I mentioned a while back where an agnostic went on the offensive against atheists by writing an article for Slate Magazine. Maybe now would be a good time to point out a few things about atheists and agnostics in general.
1) Many atheists also regard themselves as agnostics. This seems to be a tough one for many people to swallow. In case readers here are confused by such terminology, I will write an article later that covers it. But for now, try to understand that many atheists do not see agnosticism as a middle position between atheism and theism. We often see it as something else entirely, where Christians can be agnostics or atheists can be agnostics. For those who don’t understand what I mean, you can learn more at the footnote.3
2. Whether the attitudes of men like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris “allow no room for doubt” or not is debatable. I don’t always agree with them and sometimes I cringe at their approach when they make their points, but I also realize that they are engaging in public debates and appearances about atheism. Throughout most of human history, atheists tended to keep their views to themselves as if those views were unworthy of entering the public discourse. The new atheists hope to change that. I think that anyone who isn’t prejudiced against atheists in general should concede that this is a good thing
3. One thing should be made clear that the AWAKE! article hasn’t made clear: many atheists are far from extreme in their views and are more than happy to let others believe whatever they want. It’s not as if all atheists are as in-your-face as the so called new atheists. And even the new atheists aren’t that extreme. I’ve yet to hear Hitchens or Dawkins suggest we turn into suicide bombers or blow up any abortion clinics. And even if they did, I doubt any atheist who wasn’t mentally disturbed would answer.
By the way, if spokesmen like the new atheists were kind, forgiving, and always respectful of religion to the point of being deferential, do you think anybody would listen? Would they find themselves doing interviews on Fox News or The Daily Show, spreading their message to the masses, as they do now? Or would they be overlooked in favor of juicier stories? If so, their efforts would have no impact on awareness whatsoever. And awareness, I think, is the most positive thing they are achieving for atheists everywhere. They are forcing people to remember that atheists are out there and that we should get a voice a too. Sure, they’re doing this by being controversial … which is the only way anyone gets anywhere with the media. Once we pass this hurdle, atheists will start appearing on sitcoms as the quirky friend everyone loves to hate. Then we’ll get our own cable channel. It’s inevitable. Don’t fight it people.
More from the AWAKE!
“Religion poisons everything,” says one leading atheist.5 Moreover, that ‘poison’ is said to include religious beliefs in general, not just extremist views. Core dogmas, say the new atheists, must be exposed, abandoned, and replaced by rationality and reason.
To further point out the differences between atheists, I should state my own opinion about this one. I think it would be nice if we abandoned core dogmas–certainly things that I regard as superstitious or harmful–but I’m not sure that it’s within reason to insist that they “must be exposed, abandoned, and replaced by rationality and reason.” For better or worse, we humans need some delusions to get through our day. We’re built this way. The thing is that while some delusions are truly helpful, others can be harmful. We just need a mechanism that helps us lose the harmful ones. Most people don’t seem to have any, or only have ones that work poorly.
I certainly wouldn’t want us turning into Vulcans of Star Trek fame, or dispassionate zombies who merely do as they’re told. (No jokes about life at your former Kingdom Halls, please. We’re already thinking of our own, so what would be the point?) Back to the AWAKE! article:
Which side do you think time will vindicate? While considering the matter, ask yourself: ‘Is belief in a Creator intrinsically harmful? Would universal atheism make for a better world?’ Let us consider what some respected scientists and philosophers have said about atheism, religion, and science.
Golly, I wonder which way the Society will swing on that one. You’ll have to wait until my next post to find out! No spoilers! I’d hate to ruin the surprise. In the meantime, let me try to answer the questions the authors posed.
1. Which side do you think time will vindicate?
Since the signs that Armageddon is getting closer are actually diminishing and humanity seems–overall–to be doing better than ever in the past, I’d bet on my side. The atheist side. But then, I’m an atheist. What did you expect?
2. Is belief in a Creator intrinsically harmful?
That’s a tough one. There are decent arguments both ways. I guess it depends on what the creator you happen to believe in wants. Then again, we could ask the same thing about atheists. Is a lack of belief in a creator intrinsically harmful? Only if you’re a nutcase and the only thing holding you back from killing others is a fear that you’ll be punished by the creator. Both questions seem to imply that we need more information to give a real answer, but as they stand, I would say no–belief or lack of belief in a creator isn’t intrinsically harmful. It’s all the other stuff linked to that belief or affected by that disbelief that we should be worried about.
That’s it for today class. Let’s see what shakes loose in the Society’s next article, “HAS SCIENCE DONE AWAY WITH GOD?”
Spoiler alert: Unless you live in a country … or a town … that has no churches, Kingdom Halls, or mosques, or etc., the answer’s probably no.
NOTE: This is part of a series of posts about the this issue of the AWAKE!
- I’m being totally serious here. Don’t give me that look! ↩
- They may be quoting Bernstein there, but they also make the words their own by quoting them inline. ↩
- An agnostic Christian is someone who doesn’t believe that God can be proven or disproven absolutely (which is what agnosticism is), but they still believe in God’s existence fully. Thus, they are both agnostic and Christian. An agnostic atheist would also believe that God (or gods generally) can’t be proven or disproven absolutely, but they still wouldn’t believe that any exist. Hence, they are agnostic atheists, which most of us–including most of the new atheists–are. ↩
- Babes in lingerie are neat. ↩
- Christopher Hitchens, I think. ↩